October 16, 2023

High School Planning with Kerri Forney

A Blue Orchard Bee Resource

High School Planning with Kerri Forney


A long-standing goal at the Blue Orchard Bee is to improve the accessibility of our resources for all of our listeners and readers. This year will are working toward this goal by republishing some of your favorite episodes with new, fully edited transcripts. Originally from the Spring 2021 series, we're re-releasing this conversation with Kerri Forney and Danielle Sunseri with this new and fully-edited transcript. Kerri and Danielle talk about planning for high school, Charlotte Mason, and how to prepare for these years, particularly when teaching neurodiverse students.


The following video is a product of the Blue Orchard Bee and the Charlotte Mason Institute which holds the copyright.  You are encouraged to share this file with your friends family and colleagues.  Do not republish this information in any format, including electronic or digital, without permission from the Charlotte Mason Institute.  Ideas suggested in these files do not necessarily reflect the views of the Blue Orchard Bee or the Charlotte Mason Institute. Information provided here is not to be perceived or construed as professional advice in matters of mental health.  You are encouraged to work closely with a mental health professional provider that meets your needs.


Before we get started today on the Blue Orchard Bee, Jennifer Talsma shares the vision for her conference workshop to be presented this year in Wilmore, Kentucky: Can your child reach the feast?

“So in the session that I will be doing, we'll be looking at the idea of the feast that a Charlotte Mason education provides for our students. And when we think about a feast, if you imagine someone coming to the table and not having all the tools that they need to be able to either serve themselves or to get the food from their plate to their mouth or to digest properly, that person isn't having the same access to the feast that everybody else is. And when we look at our children who have specific learning disorders such as dyscalculia, dyslexia, and dysgraphia, those are the kinds of challenges that these students have in accessing the feast.

The feast is there for them, but they don't have the means of taking it in, processing it through, and interacting with it in a relational way with others either. A lot of the times as parents who don't have a background in education or the psychological development of children or any neurological training even, we can look at our children and say, 'things are going okay, but something seems off.' And we sometimes don't know whether there is an actual problem or whether we're doing something wrong. So in my session, we're going to explore the 3Ds, those specific learning disabilities of dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia, and identify what some of the early signs are that children may be experiencing one of these difficulties. We will look at how a Mason education well done can actually support these students. Some of the great things that this kind of an education will provide for our children.

But then we'll also look at some of the specific needs that they have that might be a little bit different than a typical child's needs might be and how we can work with them within our context.”

For more information about the 2022 conference, including speaker bios and abstracts, please visit the CMI homepage at charlottemasoninstitute .org and click conference.

In today's session of the Blue Orchard Bee, Danielle discusses high school with Kerri Forney. Kerri is a long time parent educator who has been studying Mason for many years. She shares her experience in this discussion. So let's listen in on their conversation.


Danielle: How comfortable should parents be? A lot of parents kind of feel like, 'oh, this is high school, this is so serious. The kid has to fit the curriculum at this point. I can't make accommodations.' What are kind of your general thoughts on that?

Kerri: Yeah, so no, I would say that that isn't the case. That there is no one-size-fits-all that would say that this is the requirement that all kids must somehow step through and master for high school. That, just as you would have a - the general principle, right, is the child is a person, that that's definitely gonna guide even at this point, right? Just like it's going to, you're going to take that into account all the way along. Nothing changes just because you've entered this magical world of high school, even though it feels different, right? It feels like the stakes are higher and now somehow, because we're gonna have to look forward to this transcript, if indeed they do want to go onto a college or university, that now someone else is gonna be looking at this information and therefore it's different. But the reality is, outside of this basic - obviously as a homeschooler, you have a state requirement and that differs by where you live, obviously. So, that's gonna play a role. So, what your state is determining, a degree of, what are these general requirements that are needed for high school. North Carolina, we have very little, we have no real requirement in that regard, right? So, we as the administrators of our homeschools can set what those graduation requirements are.

The child is a person… Nothing changes just because you've entered this magical world of high school even though it feels different.

So, we're not - somebody else isn't setting that for us. So that's, but all states are different. So, obviously, people will have to take a look at what are they homeschooling, what are the laws that they're homeschooling under in their particular state? But then the next thing, you know, you look at, okay, well, where's your student potentially heading? And then that's going to say, okay, well, let's look at a generic university requirement.

And when you look at that, you see that typically they are actually much broader than we sometimes want to put on ourselves. It'll say math for three years. Doesn't even necessarily specify what level of math. It'll say financial math or math for life. Oh, that involves how to keep track of your, your payments and your expenses, right? It's like there's, those are basic things that you may not even consider to be, oh, like people consider that math.

Well, yeah, they do. So I've been really encouraged, I think, in looking at this for, for all children to realize that there, those hoops are not necessarily as high as sometimes we make them out to be when we say, 'well, if I'm thinking my child - I want my child to be an engineer.' Well, there might be other hoops that you'd have to put on that if you're going to try to aim for something really specific. But when we're taking a look at the child as a person, right, that there's, there's a world of opportunities and those type of requirements are very, very small in that regard, right? You're not, you're looking at, they need to have taken some English classes and they need to have taken some math classes and they need to have had some other interests and electives and history or in the sciences, right? Like we have some basic things that would be good, but the level of attainment in each of those things isn't even specified. So, when you consider the broad range of opportunities for online education going forward, as well as in-person education, especially since what COVID has brought about, there's more and more apprenticeships and different ways to go about that.

And that becomes very freeing, I think, when you realize that you're not having to fit in your child into one particular mode in order to do anything past high school.

Danielle: And the next part of that question, I think, for a lot of people is do you then, so you have this list of requirements or that you think you need to meet, do you lead with those requirements then at that point? Or, you know, how do you start thinking about and working on, okay, these are the child's gifts and these are their challenges? Which leads how you start actually planning what that's going to look like?

Kerri: Yeah, right. Yeah, and I think obviously it's gonna differ from home to home, school to school, as far as classrooms, as far as what's happening in there and what are you, it's going to be a combination of both really.  I think for most homeschoolers we would recognize that you're going to want to give your child the feast right of various different subject areas. So, the fact that you're having some histories, readings and some science-type things right that's going to be a normal level of everyone's, everyone acknowledges that yes this broad feast as a Mason educator is what we're aiming for. But then within that, so, you know, I have kids that are very, very liberal arts-oriented and I have kids that are very, very mechanical and tractor oriented or plane oriented or very much on the day to day like how do these things work. And, all of those kids need various introductions to all the different subject areas and topics, even though their particular bent and their particular gifts and abilities, lead them strongly in certain areas.

And so I think there's room - you can focus on those things - my son who is a pilot and an aviation - he's in avionics and he has his certification in airplane mechanics. Those took a lot of his time and effort and interest, but at the same time, he loves thinking about what the roads looked like 100 years ago in North Carolina. I mean he has a history interest, as well, just because we were plodding along through history books and talking about what was going on in geography and those types of things. So I think it's, it's always a combination of, of both things you know that these basic things of having science classes and doing literature and history are there.

All of those kids need various introductions to all the different subject areas and topics, even though their particular bent and their particular gifts and abilities lead them strongly in certain areas.

But at the same time there's freedom to go 'okay well where this this aspect of geography was fascinating to him to understand how the roads have been changing in our county.' Well, we did a lot more of that type of geography reading than we did maybe on some other area that if someone was really fascinated in what was happening in the West is expansion was going on right they might read a lot more books that kind of went that direction and talked about that if that was a particular interest of theirs. So, I think there's room for both - you have your basic things that you're, you're exposing them to because we are people, and we want to have a broad feast, but there's also plenty of room for saying, 'yeah let's, let's, what are the things that are that are fascinating to them that they really want to learn more about?'

Danielle: Right, so say we have a plan that we're comfortable with - we've taken those requirements we've thought about, you know where, where those particular needs and interests are. And we have a plan that we're comfortable with. We have to figure out how to document this. So, how do you go about preparing transcripts for a scope and sequence or even just a single course if you've had to make significant accommodations and you know you can't just say 'Oh, well this is what the textbook said we covered so we checked off all those boxes right.

Kerri: Right, yeah, yeah, and I think there's probably some maybe misconceptions out of how much information colleges and universities actually want from you when you consider the mass number of people that they're having to sift through for that sort of piece of paper. They really aren't as interested in all those details as we might sometimes think and you know we've poured a lot of time and effort and attention into crafting that sort of thing, but in the end, they're really just looking at that as 'oh did they have three years of something called science? Did they have three years of something called English, right?' Like 'there is their math on here, right? They're really not - they don't have time and are not really using that document to kind of delve into the particulars and the details of ‘well, how did this child go about this subject?' It's very important to us and it's just not that important to them, so if you look at it that way and you say, ‘okay, they're using this as a very fast snapshot to see if the basic requirements are on there.  It's kind of like a checklist for them.  They're just going through, going ‘yep, okay, yep yep yep yep yep’ and when you think about it that way, it takes a little bit of that stress off because I think in our minds we're comparing, ‘well, somebody else did that and so if they put this on their transcript and I put this and I use the same sort of terminology, well it doesn't mean the same and am I being honest and is this representing the child?’ There's all those questions that come to our mind, but in the end the college is not using it for that purpose. There might be other ways down the line that it might be more like a portfolio if you think of someone interested in art and pursuing an art degree they might request 'okay I want student samples of their work,' 'I want to see at what level they're they're doing this artwork' and that's a different type of a thing they're going to show - ‘this is what I've done, this is the type of skills I've acquired,’ but the transcript is not that piece of paper. If you google subject transcript instead - because sometimes I know it's a worry and a concern, ‘well, what if we didn't do - what if we did geometry when they were a senior and everyone else did geometry when they were a sophomore? It's going to show up that my kid didn't do that high level of math’ or ‘They didn't attain that level, what's going to happen?’ Well, in a lot of ways, nothing, right? If they're still looking for the basics, nothing's gonna happen.

We're aiming to develop a person, not complete a curriculum.

But one way to go about that though, is to do it by subject. So, here's the year that I took it, it's just showing here's math. And here are the three courses that we took, right? Here's what the student’s done. Here's the credit. This is it, they sat, they worked. This was a daily class for this whole year. And here's the credit, one credit for that. And here's the grade based on, here's the effort that they put forward towards this work. And this is what I've assigned as their grade.

And that's it, right? You have one little line, it says math. You can even say math one, two, three, right? There isn't even a requirement that you specify all of the particulars on what it is. And then it can say, here's the credit hour, one, two, three.

And then you add it up. So I think sometimes we make it more complicated than it is because of our concern that either our child's gonna be misunderstood or not compared properly or they're not gonna stand up well against this child that's got postgraduate work in their high school courses. Sometimes we kind of view it in that lens that isn't necessarily the case. So, maybe taking a step back and just saying, if I had to think about this in subjects and here's what they did in history and here's what they did in science and here's what we did in math and here's what we did in English, it may relieve a little bit of that pressure to feel like you've got to have this comparable transcript even though necessarily the work may not look identical. But colleges are certainly aware of that fact that kids are coming from all sorts of high schools. If you just even look at public high schools across the country, there's not one size that fits all that they are saying, okay, we know that every kid has this.

How are you being the guide and friend to walk alongside them to enable them to grow?

There isn't a this, right? That's why we have basic courses in college as well that people can take to kind of get on that wherever it needs to lead to. So, hopefully that's helpful that, it doesn't need - there's ways to accomplish the goal of taking a snapshot that doesn't highlight ‘this is where we had to do something different.’

Danielle: So can you, in that regard, can you talk a little bit about credit hours versus oh, we completed the book or oh, we completed the syllabus?

Kerri: Right, yeah, I think there's again, and we put as the, as homeschoolers, we'll put on ourselves this idea of, well, you were supposed to finish the book and you didn't finish the book and therefore you didn't finish the course or you didn't get the credit. But really, if you asked a whole bunch of classroom educators, they would tell you that finishing the book is rarely the - that's not normally doesn't happen for one, for the same reasons that it doesn't happen always in our homes: there's all sorts of things that go on. And it's not necessarily even the goal, right, a teacher has the freedom to say, ‘well, you know, I think we're going to do chapters one, nine, eight, ten.’ They can pick and choose based on what is the fullness of that course, what's going on, even thinking about it in terms - let's say it’s - you're reading several different sources and you're reading selections from different things and you're putting it together to kind of see a whole, or a comparison or contrast. So, I think there's, there's room there again to say, well, it's more - was the work, the time spent, we can talk about seat hours versus what's in this course.  The course requires that the student was doing this on Tuesdays and Thursdays from, you know, just like a regular - what's the schedule for your week.

Well, they worked on this for 45 minutes here and 45 minutes here and 45 minutes here. Well, that's that history course. Right, this is what it entails. And this is the material that we covered we were working on US history and we were going through this book. And it was for this time period, whether we finished that particular book really has very little bearing. On the fact overall, this is what our course content was about. So I think there's some, again, there's, there's leeway and there is freedom to make that course fit what's appropriate for your student. There's nothing out there that defines, ‘okay, well, a North Carolina history course requires that this number of pages be read or this many specific topics be covered.’ There's room to design that around the individual needs of your child. Thankfully.

Danielle: Do you have any other thoughts or wisdom that you'd like to share about this topic. How many have you graduated?

Kerri: So, three are graduated. One - I have a senior for this year, so almost almost four, and then a freshman in high school, so the last one. So yeah, I think there's it's so many of these, these questions right go back to just reminding ourselves of Mason's principles - that these are individual people. And, and that the goal of education is growth, right she says over and over, or that it's this idea of what are we - we're aiming to develop a person, not complete a curriculum. So, those things I think are what just has to constantly go back to our mind when we say, right what's, what is this big picture, where are we heading, what are we, what are we aiming to do? And, and then therefore, these hoops along the way, what are they measuring, right? Are they just a, 'Okay, we've got to put this together because the college is expecting to see these things.' Well, yeah. But how we went about that really is more directed by who is your child. Right, who is this person that you're, that you're in this relational education with, right? And how are you being the guide and friend to walk alongside them, to enable them to grow, right? To help them to grow and to take on this self-education for themselves. And that's going to be as varied as there are individual children, where what they need to help them to become long-term, lifelong learners is only what you as that individual teacher are going to know best to do, right? You're going to be able to observe and ask those questions and seek help, but to be able to take this particular child with their particular gifts and abilities and talents and struggles and wiring and all those different aspects to their personhood and be able to, 'how do I help them to grapple with this feast of books and things in the world around them?

How do they help themselves to grow in all those different areas?' So I think that has always helped guide then how I think about and think through, 'okay, what is this going to look like as a course of study for this child?' And adjusting as you go along, right? The freedom to adapt. I love, you know, Mason or else Elsie Kitching wrote early on and, you know, she said 'this method, it's a method, it's the result of principles that are living organisms which have powers of growth, expansion and adaptability, right?' So they’re, these general timeless truths that we base this education on, they can expand and grow and be adaptable.

These general timeless truths that we base this education on, they can expand and grow and be adaptable.

And so we're not stuck with ‘what happens if I can't fit this to my child,’ right? We're not supposed to, it's not being done to them, it's - we need to bring them up in this relation. So, how do I help them to have relations across the board? That's kind of guided, I think a lot of, over time, right? I think I've - growing as a teacher, being able to see that, didn't probably see that as much early on, feeling very much that pressure of trying to, okay, how do I adapt my kid to fit into this curriculum? But growing to see, 'oh, okay, actually, I can adapt this curriculum to really fit and serve my child well.'

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